Students had stacked the pieces of what would become a small, one-room home on the lawn outside Franklin High School on the afternoon of April 6, just after school was out for the day.
At a previous building session, students created four walls — including one with a door-sized hole — and a floor out of long planks and plywood. That afternoon, the students needed to erect the walls and hammer the pieces together to create a single structure.
They surrounded the constructed wood floor laying on a stack of pieces on the ground, lifted it up and flipped it over. As it fell, the air blew outward and it landed with an echoing boom that could be heard throughout the neighborhood.
After a couple hours of work, it started to resemble the small shelter that will be delivered to Nickelsville this summer. The students are part of Sawhorse Revolution, a youth program that teaches carpentry skills to benefit community groups around the city. This latest project is a student-designed home to give to the encampment on South Dearborn Street and 10th Avenue South.
The work will take about a dozen sessions to complete. The students spent this April afternoon leveling the floor of the structure, hoisting the walls and nailing the pieces together, but they still need to add a number of features they designed for the structure.
It will have a raised platform for a bed with storage underneath, a seat near one of the windows and a fold-out desk. Structures at Nickelsville often get a lot of moisture in them, so they built windows at various levels to provide ventilation. They will have a metal grate leading up to the structure so people don’t track in as much mud or water.
“It’s a little home,” said Wanbo Cheung, 18, a Franklin High School senior.
Sawhorse Revolution formally came together in 2012, but the people who founded it have been teaching carpentry through summer camps since 2010. Students involved in the nonprofit, after-school program and summer camp have built greenhouses and rabbit houses for community gardens and another small home that is already in use at Nickelsville.
Staff and volunteers have worked with students from seven high schools. Students building the Nickelsville structure came from Franklin High School and Nova High School. Sawhorse Revolution is growing. It is a 501(c)(3) that had a budget of $140,000 in 2014 and $190,000 in 2015.
“We use the building as a means for interest in community involvement and youth development,” said Micah Stanovsky, Sawhorse Revolution’s operations director.
And they approach their work with humor. Before starting to build the structure outside Franklin High School, the group shouted their team cheer.
“Are we here to have fun?” Sawhorse volunteer Tony Palomo shouted.
“No!” the students yelled back.
“How are we going to play?” Palomo yelled.
“Way too seriously!” they replied. “Cheat to win! Cheat to win! Cheat to win!”
And with that, they picked up their tools and planks of wood and set to work, bringing their vision to reality. All the while, volunteers and staff with Sawhorse interjected lessons in carpentry and safety.
Matthew Cary, owner of Heirloom Quality Modern, set a laser level on the floorboard and had the students adjust metal legs so the floor was perfectly flat.
Two students would lift the flooring while others reached under and turned large screws that raised or lowered the base. Cary pointed out safety measures while they worked: Students lifting the floor were responsible for making sure they didn’t drop it on the students adjusting the base, he said.
“Each person is responsible for everyone else’s safety on the job site,” said Cary. “That’s how it works.”
Students working on Sawhorse Revolution projects are involved in the project from design to construction. Organizers worked with the students to select projects that will support the community. Those working on the Nickelsville structure met with residents on the tent encampment and volunteered at the site, digging drainage ditches to help keep the tents and structures dry.
“It was really eye-opening,” said Jaelyn Eaves-Howell, 18, a senior at Franklin High School.
Staff from Olson Kundig Architects advised the students, but the students designed the structure themselves, after meeting with Nickelsville residents to find out what they needed.
The encampment has had structures for years. The hillside at 10th Avenue South and South Dearborn Street is dotted with small shelters that Nickelsville residents have hauled from site to site. The older structures are pink, a nod to the encampment’s beginning when residents lived in pink tents.
Sawhorse Revolution’s last-donated structure towers over the others. It’s bigger, insulated and covered on one side with old road signs. The light shimmers off the reflective surface.
Students are trying to improve on the design for this new structure. Although it’s one room, they built the bed, seating, a desk and windows to make little living spaces around the square space.
“The idea is to come up with as many spaces in this one room with as many different functions as possible,” said Thalia Bell, 17, a senior at Nova High School.